How risky is it to buy a craigslist car

I’ve been into cars for a few months as im only 19 and didnt grow up around cars, mechanics or anyobody else into cars. I got a job at a shop doing general service, its been a few months now I can do brakes and do decent inspections. Im just wondering when I will be comfortable enough to buy and sell cars on craigslist. I would check all the vehicles on a lift if i was interested, but how can you be sure the tranmisssion and engine arent going to blow?

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Even veterans on this forum would not buy a car without having it checked out by an expert. In addition to checking out the mechanical fitness, you have to check for prior accident damage as well as any outstanding liens against the car.

Many stolen cars are also resold.

If the seller is unwilling to have you do these checks, walk away! Fast.


If you are talking about flipping cars on your own you need to check your states regulations first. Some states will allow a certain number to be bought and sold without a dealers license. The big problem is your age (19). Your insurance coverage will be outrageous.


What makes you think you think you csn get more for a car on Craigslist that the person who sold it to you did. If a car is listed for less thsn market value there is a reason, The seller knows the reason, you don’t.

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I’m not sure this is a great idea. As others have already said, you’d need to have your most experienced coworkers help you with pre-purchase inspections, you’d have to properly insure these cars, and you’d have to comply with any laws on the number of private sales allowed. You’d also have expenses such as registration and personal property tax, depending on the state.

Insurance might be a gray area. If you’re doing this on a regular basis, they might consider this to be a business more than a personal hobby, requiring a different type of policy.

If you still decide to proceed, I think you’d need to look for cars that are priced low because of issues that you’re able to fix. If you can fix those issues yourself (at a presumably low cost, if you’re allowed to use your shop), then you can hopefully resell the cars at a price high enough to make that worthwhile. Of course, your money will be tied up for a while during this process and you might take a loss if you guess wrong on the right buying or selling price.

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This is a tempting idea, but you will soon discover that it’s much more complicated than it seemed. The used car business is very competitive and has gotten sophisticated and corporate. Every state has complicated rules. And, finally, in the first years of doing this sort of work you will find yourself spending lots of money on tools.

All that said, you are 19, and you are thinking long term about ways to make your living in America. That’s what we all do, and did, and there were always pitfalls and risks and so forth, but some of us did pretty well anyway. Welcome to our world. Sometimes the only way to get the knowledge you need is to jump in and do it.

If you start reading in this forum you’ll see all sorts of stories of bone-headed moves we all have made, successes and lots of failures. That’s how it works.

The biggest regrets I have are for the things I didn’t do, not the things I did.

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Even experienced mechanics can’t always tell if a transmission or engine is ready to blow. Actually, there are very few instances where stuff just “blows”. Modern cars just don’t go Boom very often. There are signs, though, there are definite signs! Slipping clutches from both manuals and automatics. Burnt fluid smells from the trans, engine oil, the diff fluid or near the clutch, clatters, rattles and smoke from the engine.

That said, if you want to “flip” cars for cash off Craigslist or any other way people sell cars, you need a car that YOU can add VALUE to. Say a car has a blown head gasket and the owner can’t afford the repair. Buy it, repair it, and clean it all up, sell it for a profit. Your money IS at risk because it COULD be much worse than a blown head gasket. You need to know how to diagnose a blown head basket and affirm that engine is not destroyed. OR you need to buy it cheaply enough you can afford to buy a used engine a swap it in and NOT lose money.

Many people are pigs. Their cars get treated like garbage piles. They go to sell them and NO one will touch their bio-hazard 4 wheeler. That is your opportunity. You buy it cheap, clean it inside and out, polish and wax the paint and post it for sale. You likely will need to do some service as well so plan for it. New tires, oil changes, wiper blades and maybe brakes. You’d be amazed how many people will spend $35,000 on a new car before they’d pay $500 on a set of new tires.

There are ways to make money flipping cars, there are more ways to lose money if you don’t do your research. Good Luck!

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I’m always impressed at how LITTLE money they make on ‘Wheeler Dealers’, the show where they buy a used car for the least possible (the one guy is an experienced car salesman), fix it up (free labor from an expert mechanic), and then sell it. They typically make maybe 10%, ignoring ALL labor costs. My point? If you think you’re gong to make significant money, you’re mistaken.


Just speaking from my own experience, but my family has bought two cars off Craigslist and we were very happy with how it went. Both of the sellers were very friendly elderly people and the cars are still running fine with no problems. That said anytime you deal through an online site such as craigslist I’d make sure you get a feel for the person and also make sure you read the ads. Make sure the person who’s put up the ad used the correct grammar and such and is upfront about all that may be wrong with the said car. Next would be to text or call them and ask about the car and make an appointment in a Public place. I wouldn’t trust the seller if they only had the email option available to get a hold of them usually those are scams. Just my two cents though.

My current Lincoln was purchased off of Craigslist and it’s been an excellent car. I kind of know what I’m looking at mechanically speaking so that gives me a bit of a leg up over someone who is not as mechanically inclined.

To me, CL is no worse than buying a car from a dealer, newspaper classified, etc. It’s all about doing your homework.

Note I did not mention eBay. I’m amazed at how many people will buy a 150k miles vehicle sight unseen from someone who lives 2000 miles away and then complain about imperfections when it arrives on a transport truck later.
They also buy into that worthless Vehicle Purchase Protection thinking it will cover them for anything and soon discover it covers practically nothing.

I didnt mean i was going to attempt to flip, I just meant to do that kind of inspecting.

You said in your first post that you wanted to buy and sell on Craigslist. That is flipping.

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What exactly does that mean? We would like to help, but we have no idea what you plan on.

@texases Being that wheeler dealers is my favorite TV show and I also used to flip cars way back when I was very young, I am always surprised on the amount of time and labor that goes in every flip. Add shop time, tools, insurance and so on and they are loosing a lot of money. I guess the part that make money is the “show”.

Buying a vehicle on Craigslist is no more or less risky than buying a used vehicle at a dealership. In either case, it is imperative that you either understand how vehicles work well enough that you know what to look for, or that you pay your mechanic to thoroughly inspect the vehicle before you buy it.

These guidelines are the same whether you buy a vehicle from a friend, a dealership, or a complete stranger.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi wrote a short book titled How To Buy A Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows. I suggest you read it.

Also, don’t rely on a VIN report (i.e. Carfax report). They are not as reliable as an in dependent inspection by a qualified mechanic.

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It’s more risky, in that you can get held up if you do it in the wrong place, with the wrong people. Big difference, vs. a dealer.

Yeah, a dealership salesperson has to be more cunning to steal your money so you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late. :wink:

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I’ve bought a few cars via Craigslist

No big problems, but maybe because I wrench for a living

I’d like to think it’s harder to pull the wool over my eyes, versus some pencil pusher who isn’t at all mechanically inclined

I bought a car for my mom a few years back. I found it on craigslist, the price was fair. It was a retired guy and he claimed the car was well maintained. I brought my brother along. While they were talking, I was checking out the car. I peeked underneath, looked in all 4 wheel wheels, checked out EVERYTHING. I even hooked up my scanner. I could tell it had never been in an accident, and that it had indeed been maintained well, as he said.

While the engine was idling, and on the test drive, I heard a slight whine. It was more pronounced with the hood open, and I knew it was the water pump bearing and an idler pulley. I’m pretty sure the guy heard it, knew about it, but didn’t say anything. Neither did I, because a water pump and idler aren’t that expensive.

We agreed on a price, and I replaced the parts a few days later. The noise was gone, as I knew it would be. It’s been a good car.

I’ve looked at a few other cars over the years. The paint looked presentable, but from certain angles, it was apparent the cars had been in some serious accidents, and not been properly repaired. I walked away from those.

I also don’t bother contacting people who have their cars listed WAY above the realistic value. Those guys are in their own universe, and usually won’t accept what they consider to be a lowball offer. I’m talking about bread and butter cars here, not collectibles, sports cars, or what have you

I have also seen a few cars where the guy claimed to be a private party seller . . . but when I showed up, it was clear he was actually a used car dealer selling a car “off the books” or even a curbstoner. I’ve run into both situations. I didn’t buy the car from the curbstoner, but I did buy some cars from the used car dealer selling it “off the books” and they were good cars over the years

As for inspecting a potential purchase at the shop . . . ask the boss if it’s okay. Clearly, the boss wants the rack to be used to make money, not for freebie car inspections for the employees. At least during working hours. When I worked at the dealership, I did all my personal stuff either before work, after work, or during lunch. I used to work very late on my own cars, and they let me lock up on my own. That ended when I got badly hurt, and I almost didn’t find anybody to drive me to get fixed up. After that they realized it was a liability, and so I “ruined” it for everybody else

Another idea . . . if you’re working at a car dealer . . . perhaps they will let you buy a car that was traded in for cost plus a modest amount on top of it. I’ve done that, but it was a little tricky. That’s a story for another day :smiley:

The way the OP phrased the opening comments I read it that they’re planning on flipping cars. Two possible problems with that.

  1. Not really knowing what you’re getting and ending up with rolling scrap.

  2. Flipping more than a few cars per year means a dealer license is needed. Doing this with no license means curbstoning and title jumping. That in turn means fines and/or jail time.

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@db4690; Every time I respond to an ad for a car for sale by owner, I would say “I am calling about the car you put up for sale”, if the immediate response is “which one”, I know that more likely than not I am dealing with some curb-stoner and move on. How many private sellers sell more than one car at a time.